How much does anybody really know about the ballgame in Atlanta on April 8, 1974? Hank Aaron hit his 715th homer in the fourth inning, into the bullpen behind left-center field. Two random guys came out to congratulate Aaron between 2nd and 3rd base. His mother was waiting to give him a big hug as he crossed home plate. The game was stopped for a short ceremony to commemorate the event, and then many of the 53,000+ in attendance began to leave the ballpark, as the game was still going on.
That last part has always baffled me a little bit. If you’re already at the game, and you paid for the ticket and paid to park the car and bought peanuts and beer and whatever else it is you get at a ballgame, why not stay and see who wins? I understand that watching Aaron break the record was the real draw, but would it have been too painful to stay and watch the game until the eighth inning, at least? That’s what I would do.
As fans were leaving the game, there was still more baseball to be played. Yes, that evening’s gathering was not an exhibition, for the sole purpose of breaking the most hallowed record in all of sports. That’s what ended up happening, and that’s why so many people were there to witness it, but it was still a baseball game that had to be finished. Statistics were kept, outs were recorded, and the game’s result went into the wins and losses columns, just like every other game does.
Aaron’s home run tied the game, and the Braves forged ahead to a 7-4 lead. When the seventh inning rolled around, the home team turned to the new pitcher on their staff, Lee William Capra. He went by the moniker “Buzz,” and the card shown above makes it seem as if that’s his given name, so I’ll call him Buzz here, as well.
Buzz Capra had come to the Braves after three nondescript years with the New York Mets. He struck out six of the ten batters he faced that evening, and didn’t allow a single hit. He recorded the save, and after that he was on his way in Atlanta. He made the All-star team for the first (and only) time in his career. He won 16 games, which was more games than he won in his other six seasons combined. He led the National League with a 2.28 ERA, finished in the top ten in the league in the Cy Young voting, and even got some votes for the National League’s MVP award.
The future looked bright for Buzz Capra in the wake of the 1974 season. In fact, it would never look so good for him again. His record over the next three seasons was 10-19, and by the time this card appeared before the start of the 1978 season, Buzz Capra would never again play in the majors. You could think of his career as a pyramid, with three seasons in New York, one stellar season in Atlanta, followed by three more seasons in Atlanta. And that’s seven more seasons in the majors than anyone reading this post will get, myself included. The best seven years of his life, I would imagine.
I couldn’t name the directors of too many movies, and certainly not from the years before I was born. But It’s a Wonderful Life is the obvious exception. Frank Capra directed the movie, and his name almost seems to be a part of the movie’s title: Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.
With the mug shot glare in his eyes, his porn star ‘stache, and a defiant sneer curling his lip to bare his front teeth, Buzz Capra looks a bit like Frank Capra’s wild, rebellious offspring. He looks like he would go to work for Mr. Potter, throwing all of the working folks out of Bailey Park; Like he’d kick Uncle Billy in the shins and remind him, for the thousandth time, that he lost all that money by handing it over to Potter; Like he’d give cigarettes to Tommy Bailey and teach Zuzu how to curse properly; Like he’d hang out with Sam Wainwright, just to remind George that he never left Bedford Falls. I suppose I’ve seen the movie a few too many times. But an angel must have been sitting on Buzz Capra’s shoulder, from the day Hank Aaron broke the home run record right up to the end of the 1974 season. And then the angel got his wings, and Buzz Capra was once again on his own.